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Skryabin's Revolving Harmonies, Lacanian Desire, and Riemannian Funktionstheorie

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 November 2011


That Skryabin's harmonic language is rooted in dominant functionality is commonly acknowledged. However, the flow of his tensile dominant-based sonorities has not been adequately explored. This article seeks to correlate his harmonic processes with his erotically charged philosophy. It sketches ways in which our understanding of Skryabin's harmonic ‘flow’ can be reinforced by analytical thinking in both psychoanalysis and music theory, bringing Jacques Lacan's semiotic model of the circuit of human desire into dialogue with Hugo Riemann's Funktionstheorie. Two of Skryabin's harmonic proclivities direct the chosen analytical approach: 1) sequential chains of fifths and 2) transposition by multiples of the minor third. The interchange of these two characteristics is explored, with Riemann's categories of chordal function (T, S, and D) grafted onto a model of tonal pitch space derived (via Fred Lerdahl) from Gottfried Weber. The way in which Skryabin ‘rotates’ tonal functions sequentially (i.e., TSDT) in a potentially infinite cycle of fifths, rerouted occasionally through minor-third transposition, is correlated with Lacanian drive theory. The article's concluding analysis of Skryabin's late octatonic Sonata no. 6, Op. 62, takes this ‘rotation’ of tonal function to a deeper structural level. The labelling system of Funktionstheorie, which is stretched at this point, is reconceptualized through Lacan's extension of his theory of desire into semiotics.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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